The Eric Schneiderman saga is over, and it cost taxpayers at least $23M
When Flatbush residents elected Farah Louis to represent them in the City Council on Tuesday, down tumbled the final piece of an electoral domino reaction triggered by the humiliating resignation of Eric Schneiderman – and it cost taxpayers more than $23 million.
Schneiderman, the former attorney general, resigned in May 2018, just hours after an article in The New Yorker detailed numerous allegations of his physical abuse of romantic partners. The story set off a flurry of increasingly local elections – each with a significant cost to the public – ending with Tuesday’s city council election.
“There is a direct line from his resignation to the city council election,” said former State Assemblymember Richard Brodsky, adding that it was all but certain that Schneiderman would have run for a third term as attorney general if not for the accusations.
The former attorney general’s lightning-quick fall from grace instead set off a race for his statewide seat, and subsequently two New York City special elections — one for public advocate and one for City Council, that cost taxpayers millions in public matching funds from the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and millions more in the costs of securing, setting up and staffing poll sites.
“There is a domino effect from Eric on, since he was at the top of the political pyramid. Once he left, everyone started moving up, leaving vacancies all over the place,” said George Arzt, a veteran political consultant.
Letitia James, the city’s public advocate at the time of Schneiderman’s resignation, ran and won the race for attorney general. She had just been elected to her second term as public advocate in November 2017.
James’ ascent left an open position at the office of the public advocate. The vacancy resulted in a crowded February 2019 special election to fill her spot, in which 12 candidates received at least 1,000 votes. Jumaane Williams, who represented the 45th District in the City Council, won.
Overall, the Campaign Finance Board paid out more than $7.1 million in 8-1 public matching funds on the public advocate special election, and the New York City Board of Elections said they would pay up to $15 million just to conduct the election, according to the New York Post.
That’s at least $22.1 million even before the special election to fill Williams’ seat.
A slew of would-be politicians who ran for the 45th District were also covered by the city’s 8-1 public matching funds. As of May 3, the Campaign Finance Board had paid out more than $750,000 to six candidates vying to replace Williams in the district, which covers Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park and Midwood.
That kicked the total up to roughly $22.8 million coming from city coffers.
The Board of Elections wouldn’t respond to multiple requests from Brooklyn Eagle for information on the cost of this week’s 45th District special election. But BOE documents show that two City Council special elections in 2017 cost taxpayers around $500,000 each.
The frontrunners in Tuesday’s race — Louis and Monique Chandler-Waterman — both received the most in public matching funds in the 45th District race, at $142,500 apiece.
While Schneiderman’s resignation led to the elections, observers do not necessarily blame the former attorney general for the grand total of $7,930,480 doled out in public matching funds between the two special elections.
“It’s supporting the candidates for city election, and that’s a good thing,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York.
She noted that a fatal car crash could have led to the same scenario.
“New York City’s matching funds program reduces the role of big money in elections and makes the contributions from everyday New Yorkers more valuable, giving them a larger role in our government,” Matthew Sollars, a spokesperson for the Campaign Finance Board, said in a statement.
Arzt, from the other side, said the issue went beyond Schneiderman, to the city’s public matching funds policy. “I think it’s an issue with the system. If anything they should go back to 6-1. Even that’s high,” Arzt said. The matching funds ratio was raised from 6-1 to 8-1 earlier this year.
“8-1 is extremely high and prods anyone to go into a race to get the matching funds, and it will lead to all sorts of shenanigans,” Arzt said. “Financial shenanigans.”
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